Talk about Travel

Nov 04, 2013

SCHEDULING NOTE: Travel Talk will be off Monday, Nov. 11, for Veterans' Day. We'll be back Nov. 18!
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Hello travelers. Welcome to the greatest hour of the week, or at least Mondays.

For today's topic, we turn to the FAA and its new rule on portable electronic devices. Now that we can use our gadgets during takeoff and landing, tell us about your favorite form of e-diversion and whether you will use it during these expanded times. Best e-answer wins a non-e-prize.

I just purchased some Broadway tickets for late November and am interested in getting some Midtown/Times Square area recommendations for a hotel stay. Ideally the place would be quiet, clean and modestly priced.

Joe is a fan of the the Jane in the West Village,  and I really like the St. Giles Hotel near Grand Central Station and the Pod Hotel (two locations), but I am not sure if rates have gone up.

For something a bit closer to Broadway, try  Hotwire. A friend snagged a W hotel for a really good price.

Hi! My daughter will turn 15 in May 2014 and, as her gift, she has chosen a trip over a big party. She's into the Sci-Fi series "Dr. Who" so she'd like to travel to London. Are there any "Dr. Who" related tours or locations we should make sure to visit while in London? Also, my daughter is not into museums per-se, but would enjoy the unusual venues and perhaps an artsy location. Since we'll be in Europe, I'd also like to visit other cities, such as Paris and nearby locations (which I've visited on my own before and feel very comfortable putting together an itinerary for) and perhaps Barcelona (never been to; we have family there) or Rome/Florence/Venice (would be a first time there for both of us). I'd like to stay in inexpensive but adequate accommodations and I'm setting aside 10-14 days for the whole trip, which may allow just enough time for three cities. We prefer to plan our own days as opposed to joining in organized tourist groups, but we know that we may have to do that in certain places. We would go during the summer vacation, sometime between mid June to late August 2014. What itinerary would you recommend? Best time to go? London and which other cities? Places to see, things to do, do-not-miss, etc.? It would be just the two of us (I'm Mom, 45 yrs. old). Thank you!

Sorry, we're not going to be able to plan out your whole trip here! For "Doctor Who," here's a nice page from the London tourism folks. At least one company appears to offer a walking tour. Anyone else have an excursion to recommend?

Paris is a good idea -- just zip there on Eurostar. From there you could take the train to Belgium (chocolate!!!). Or fly to any other place you're interested in.

When to go? Sounds like you pretty much have that determined. Just go with when you can get the best airfares, although I would think earlier in the summer might be a little better in terms of weather and crowds (though not much -- it is peak travel season over there).

On accommodations, a previous chatter here recommended the dorms at the London School of Economics. You could look for other schools in the rest of the cities you end up deciding to go to.

For what to see and do, I would do the planning with your daughter. Borrow a bunch of guidebooks from the library, download some apps, whatever. Of course, we're happy to hear recommendations from the peanut gallery.

Two moms and three kids looking for a leaving-in-the-afternoon short weekend trip. Thinking Harpers Ferry - good idea? And where to stay, what to do? Thanks!

Love Harpers Ferry. The historical park is so interesting; you can have fun just wandering around and stopping in to the exhibits in various buildings. Be sure to go up to Jefferson Rock and the cemetery and school at the top of the hill.  If everybody's up to it, you can also cross the pedestrian bridge to the Maryland side of the Potomac and hike up to Maryland Heights -- that's great exercise! And you can read the historical markers along the way that describe the Union campaign to take the heights in the Civil War. If you're more into shopping, there are some cute shops  in town. Andrea stayed at the Town's Inn a little while ago, and there are also a number of other B&Bs (Angler's Inn, Stonehouse B&B). But if I were you, I'd head to nearby Shepherdstown (just 12 miles away, also a very cute little town) and spend the night at the Bavarian Inn

Do I need to get an international drivers license (where do I get one) to drive in New Zealand, or will my US one be okay?

You can use your U.S. license without a problem.

Here are the requirements according to the NZ Transport Agency:

You can drive in New Zealand if you hold a driver licence or driving permit from another country and:

  • your overseas licence or driver permit is current and valid, and
  • you've not received a disqualification or suspension in New Zealand, and
  • you entered New Zealand less than 12 months ago, and
  • your overseas licence is in English; if it's not, you must have an accurate translation, and
  • you've not been granted a New Zealand driver licence.

Mom and Dad turning 75 this year. They live Gulf-side in Florida. As a gift, our family is thinking about going in together and getting them 4-5 days at a nice (relaxing) resort all expenses paid since traveling long-distances isn't really an option. Any thoughts on resort-type places in and around Florida that are really nice, relaxing and not going to clean out our collective bank accounts?

I quite liked the Hyatt Plantation Club in Bonita Springs. It is one of their timeshare properties, but you can rent units without being part of the program. And it's located adjacent to a Hyatt resort, which is also quite nice. 

We will be in the Tucson area for the entire month of January. What is our best option for renting a vehicle. It doesn't have to be new. I looked at the site you mentioned in your article last week about rentals from private individuals and that didn't look promising.

The major chains offer specials on month-long rentals; call the company directly, because you might get a better deal. If you are a loyalty member, work it. (On a quick search, I found a Dollar rental for the month for just over $600.)

You could also try name-your-own-price sites as well as RelayRides, the car-sharing site. Some car owners offer month-long rentals. I had a good experience with that site in San Francisco, though my rental lasted only a few days.

And if you have frequent flier miles, check to see if you can apply them to a rental.

Dearest Travel Gurus, the colder weather has already caused me to think about the possibility of a short (4-5 night) vacation in January or February. I live in the DC area, and would be interested in a place that is warmer and sunnier, and not too crazy expensive. All-inclusive resort would be fine. My understanding is that Mexico & the Dominican Republic are the least expensive options; is that correct? And is there another destination I should consider? Thanks!!

DR is inexpensive as far as the all-inclusive prices, but airfare is often high. The Cancun area will likely be cheaper. Airfares to the Bahamas and Puerto Rico are also often less expensive, but there are not many all-inclusives. I'd concentrate on the Cancun-Rivera Maya area. 

I've never been on a cruise and I'd like to take one. Probably the Caribbean. I'm currently single and will be traveling alone, but am not looking to go on some wild "singles" cruise. But everywhere I look lists prices for double occupancy. Only after sifting through the small print do I find mention of the single supplement, which is as much as 100% of the double occupancy rate. I understand the marketing strategy of advertising the absolute lowest price computation but I just want to know if there's a site or tool that lets me search for the actual price for me. Appreciate if you guys can help me out!

I'm unaware of any online booking engine that searches for specific "singles" cruises, so this may turn into a little bit of a research project for you. In the cruise category, it looks as if the riverboat cruises offer some of the best deals for single passengers (for example, here's Vantage's offer for single passengers). You might also check with Cruise Lines International Association to find a travel agent who can help with the research.

The Norwegian Epic offers studios for solo travelers -- with no single supplement. Andrea gave one a test-drive a few years ago. Here's her story.

Last time I was there was spring of 2006, but head to a Carphone Warehouse (they were everywhere!) and get a cheap cell phone with a "pay as you go" plan. By far the easiest, and I could top-up at any of the local grocery stores (Tesco, Sainsbury's, etc.).

Thanks for following up.

I have also used Carphone Warehouse in London, and had good experiences. 

My wife is traveling for the Christmas holidays alone with our infant son. It would be *tremendously* helpful if I were able to go with her to the gate to help carry stuff and keep him entertained. I did some research online and most of the comments about "gate passes" say that parents of unaccompanied minors can get one, but it says nothing about situations such as mine. Do you have any experience with who qualifies to get a gate pass? It appears I have to speak to a desk agent when my wife checks in, is that correct? Or is there any groundwork I can lay beforehand?

When you get to the airport, go to the check-in desk and ask an agent. Airline reservation agents have become more willing to hand out these passes, but it's subject to change.  If there has been a recent security breach or issue, they tend to get stricter. I have had no trouble getting passes to accompany my spry and with-it mom to the gate, but she does have grey hair. Any chatter had trouble getting a gate pass?  

I am trying to plan a weekend romantic get away as my husband Christmas gift. He is always surprises me with little short get aways, complete with arranging for a family member to watch our kids, so I'd like to do something nice for him! He has gone to Chicago numerous times for work and always says that should go there together one day. So, I am trying to plan a trip for us at the end of March. Airfare is about $375 RT out of BWI. Is this high? or is it average and I go ahead and book now.

That sounds high. I'm seeing fares closer to $300 on United from Dulles. And Southwest often has sale fares of around $300 from BWI. I'd hold off a bit and keep up with sales. 

Boyfriend and I are renting a cabin this weekend in the GW Forest just north of Luray/west of Shenandoah National Park. Do you have any recommendations for a nice dinner spot in Luray on Saturday or Sunday night? We'd like a nice sit-down place, not a sandwich/burger/pizza place, which is what most options looks like.

Inside the park, you could try the Skyland Resort’s Pollock Dining Room or the Spottswood Dining Room in Big Meadows Lodge. Or in Luray, Artisan's Grill, which artists opened in a restored building. The Mimslyn Inn's Circa '31 restaurant serves wine dinners, plus upscale Southern cuisine.

My husband and I are going on a cruise for the first time (Norwegian to Roatan, Costa Maya, Cozumel, and Belize). Do you think that the cruise organized excursions are worth it or is it better for us to explore/plan port stops on our own? We are typically pretty independent travelers who don't think twice about showing up in a country where we don't speak a word of the language, so being herded like cattle to ruins is not really our thing (we do speak Spanish and have been to other parts of Mexico and Roatan before). Any tips or advice on what to do would be great!

I would not bother with the excursions on a Caribbean cruise. You can easily plan an itinerary ahead of time via the Internet. I did that itinerary on Carnival a while back and planned all our own excursions. On Roatan, you can just get a taxi to the beach. Costa Maya and Cozumel have resorts that offer all-day passes. We took a ferry to a small island from Belize. Just make sure you time everything right so you don't get left behind! 

Hi - I just had a disappointing experience getting a hotel on priceline, and i was wondering what experience others have had. I need a hotel near midtown in NYC in mid-November. I saw some 3 stars for under $200/night on orbitz, so I bid on a 3 1/2 star hotel $150, and got nothing. so I went down to the 3 star for $155 and got it. I looked that hotel up (a Holiday Inn), and it's going for $174/night on Orbitz. I kind of regret bidding, since I just don't feel like a got much of a discount. Priceline advertises that you can get up to 60% off, but whenever I bid anything close to that I don't get it. Am I expecting too much? Is there a strategy, or is NYC just a tough market? Any advice?

I'm sorry to be the one to say this, but the star ratings used by opaque sites like Priceline are relatively meaningless. They can change at a moment's notice and no one really knows for certain what they're based on -- or not based on. If you want to game Priceline, you might try a forum like Bidding For Travel, which lists successful bids on previous bookings. Not to dis Priceline here; a lot of travelers do save up to 60 percent off a hotel's published "rack" rate, but please don't get me started on the stars.

Hi--I hope you can help me with this. I'm 5ft with a bum knee and hip. Recently when we travel I'm encountering increasingly higher beds that are difficult for me to get in and out of--I almost have to take a running jump. I'm afraid I'm going to fall. I don't understand how people in wheelchairs, for example, can get in these beds. What's with the higher beds? Is there a way to find out ahead of time the height of a bed? Do some motels have beds with lower profiles?

Bed height is apparently not governed by ADA regulations (although that may change at some point), and therefore it's something that can prove problematic, especially for people even less mobile than you. If you're concerned, I would definitely call hotels in advance. A good hotel that wants your business should be happy to try to help you. Chatters, any experience with hotels that consistently have lower beds? 

I know it sounds like a ludicrous step to have to take, but you could look into buying a lightweight collapsible step stool. Might save you a world of hurt and trouble.

I was wondering about how things work when you travel staffers visit somewhere and write it up. Is it like Tom Sietsema, who goes to great lengths to cover his identity, or do the hotels you stay at know you will be writing about them? And are your rooms, etc., comped? Just curious.

We most definitely do not accept freebies of any kind. We pay for every hotel stay (and all our trips anywhere; we never do press trips or fam trips). The hotels do not know that we're coming -- I, for instance, always have my husband make the reservations because he has a different last name from mine. The point is to have the authentic experience, just like an ordinary traveler, not to get special treatment, which the places would most probably dole out if they knew we were there. If things go wrong or there are glitches, we tell you so, just as Andrea did in her recent Salamander review.

Where within 3 hours of DC can I take an 8 yr old and a 4 yr old to stay overnight at working farm where they'd be able to do farm chores with the farmer, etc.

Here's a list of farm stays from the Virginia tourism site. It requires a two-night minimum stay, but the Herds Inn at Hedgebrook Farm near Winchester sounds perfect.

I like the Red Roof Inn on W 32nd between 5th and 6th avenues - a decent, basic hotel. I got a deal on the Paramount Hotel from Hotwire and liked it - it's on W 46th between 7th and 8th.

Thanks for the suggestions!

Which European cities would be the least horrid to sightsee in between Thanksgiving and Christmas? I HATE the cold, but we'll never be able to afford spring/summer costs. I'm hoping to find a city or two that doesn't have as biting winters as we do in DC. Thanks!!

Obviously, you need to head somewhere southerly -- Rome, Athens, Lisbon, Madrid. All have high temps in the 50s, lows in the high 30s or the 40s.

Could you recommend a few Caribbean islands for a 4-day trip? The criteria are: safe (i.e., you don't have to stay on the premises of an all-inclusive), laid-back ("good night life" to us means crickets chirping), with decent diving, and not horribly difficult to get to. We've loved Bonaire, but that's too far, and the Caymans, but would like to try something different. Help?

Did you see our Caribbean issue a few weeks ago? I think you might like Nevis.

The first leg of my American Airlines flight was delayed (ground crew fixing a problem made it worse) so I missed my connection, and it was the last flight out that night. Airline put me up for the night in the connecting city, but I still had to pay for the pricey hotel room in my intended destination. To whom should I write and what might I expect? Thanks!

Unfortunately, airlines don't compensate passengers for missed work days or hotel reservations. I'm afraid the best think you can do is to ask American politely for some consideration. Here are a few names and addresses of American's current executives. They may do something for you, but I can't guarantee it.

Hi! We'd like to take our two boys, aged 10 and 12, somewhere interesting and a bit warmer during the week of April 14. Costa Rica, Sarasota and the Grand Canyon have been tossed around. We'd like a variety of activities, not just beaches, and while we're open to the idea of a package tour or all-inclusive place we're not looking for a getaway where the kids do activities while the parents go to the spa. Any thoughts to get us started?

Those are three very different destinations, so I'd first try to narrow down your interests. If the kids are outdoors oriented, you might consider a Grand Canyon rafting or hiking trip, although April is still cold. Costa Rica offers resort/jungle tours that could keep their interest, and weather should be good. Sarasota would offer a more typical "American" vacation. How about San Diego? Lots for families to do with good weather. 

Last week someone advocated that no one use because this person was having difficulty getting a 12 euro refund. It wasn't clear from the original post why this person thought was responsible. I recently returned from a 2-week trip in Germany, where we booked all hotels through In no case did we make a "pay in advance" reservation, and we found all of the rooms we were provided to be "as advertised" and we paid each hotel individually at time of check in or check out (this varied according to hotel policies). Given my experience, I will definitely continue to use in the future. I don't know how the original poster got into their situation, but I can't think of anything that could have happened to me on my trip which would have meant that owed me a refund. So, fellow travelers, I suggest you continue to use if you are so inclined.

Thank you for taking the time to share your story. I'm glad you had a positive experience with

Just wanted to express my outrage. I recently went on a trip to Italy on Lufthansa, but posted the miles to US Air because it was near a milestone, only to find out AFTER that the miles were ineligible because of a fare code. Its such false advertising, all these "partnerships." How do they get away with advertising that you can earn miles on partners, but not really? I lost 9000 miles. 9000!!! Isn't there any consumer advocacy groups for airlines?. With all their ridiculous fees, different prices for different passengers.... How do they get away with all this?

I'm sorry to hear about this. I wear the consumer advocacy hat around here, and I can tell you that you're in good company. I'm getting several complaints a day about misleading mileage offers, many involving codesharing or alliances. Part of the problem is that strictly speaking, those miles don't belong to you at all (check your program agreement if you don't believe me). The government doesn't regulate loyalty programs. I think it should. I co-founded the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that represents travelers, in 2009, and we are fighting to bring some sense to this, but we have no allies on this issue. The airlines, banks and many elite-level customers don't want anything to change. But that isn't stopping us from trying, and at the very least, I can write something about this. And I will.

My husband and I are taking a special trip for our 5th anniversary. We plan to spend about $10,000 flying out of the midwest and want to take in everything we can. How many cities do you think are doable within a two-week time frame? I have seen various cruises in the Med advertised as well. Do you think cruising is good for a couple first-time-to-Europe travelers? We are nearly at a loss on how to start planning. We hope to travel in May. Would you (or readers) advise using a travel agent, booking separately on our own or trying to find a package site? So many questions...

Cruising is really the best and easiest way to see a chunk of Europe with minimal planning. The downside: You won't get substantial time in each of the cities.

If you decide on a port-to-port tour of Europe, I say go in style and splurge on Cunard.

If you prefer a land tour, choose one or two cities, such as Paris and London, and spend a few days in each and then arrange a few sidetrips to villages and smaller towns. I strongly advise against visiting a new city every few days. You will burn out and leave Europe exhausted.

Since you are first-timers to Europe, you might want to engage a travel agent or work with tourism offices.  However, Europe is a big tourist hub, so you could just as easily book the components yourself using Web sites and guidebooks.

The only direct flight from IAD is to Vienna, so what's the best itinerary to see these three? Seems like there will be lots of time traveling between cities.

There won't be that much traveling time at all, actually. These three cities aren't that far apart from each other, and there are excellent train connections between all three. If you fly in to Vienna, I'd go to Budapest first (it's slightly closer) then head up to Prague. There should be an express train between Budapest and Prague that will get you there in 2-3 hours.

For Dr Who set locations, visit Cardiff in Wales. The BBC has a "mobile walk" with clips that you can watch in the places they were shot. There is also the Dr. Who Experience. And Wales has other fun stuff, lots of castle ruins.

Yes, good point. Since the chatter was thinking about adding cities other than London to the trip, this is definitely worth considering.

While the Travel Gurus can't plan your trip for you, there are plenty of gurus on Trip Advisor who can. They can give you information about accommodations, Dr. Who tours, what to do in London with teenagers, what other places to visit, transportation, hidden gems, etc. Before posting, do some homework (i.e. read some guidebooks, check out previous threads and Top Questions on Trip Advisor, etc.) and be sure to give the TA people lots of information in your posting regarding dates, number of people going, interests, and budget (similar to what you did here.) The people who contribute to TA can't help you if you don't give them plenty of info and they don't always appreciate it if you haven't done your homework first. See:

Crowd-sourcing can definitely help...

The Doctor Who traveler needs to go to Cardiff, Wales, not London, for the best experience--that's where the series is filmed (even most of the London bits) and where the Doctor Who Experience is located.

Another recommendation for this!

Definitely looking forward to having my Kindle at all times, but I am most looking forward to my iPod. I don't like chatting during flights, so being able to listen to my iPod non-stop will be wonderful.

Great point. And chatty types usually open their mouths before the gates are even shut!

I am going to visit my daughter, who is spending the year studying in Munich, for the week between Christmas and New Years. We will hit the Christmas Market in Munich when I get there on Dec 22, but would like suggestions about a cozy inn (maybe in a village) and some festivities for Christmas itself. Afterwards, our itinerary is open, but friends have suggested Belgium or Amsterdam, and we want something memorable for New Year's Eve. We'd appreciate some ideas!

I'm a big fan of the Austrian lake district, known as the Saltzkammergut. Many accommodations have holiday packages, and the region is located less than two hours from Munich.  

Hi folks - I would like to take a long winter weekend in a (relatively) close Canadian city. What would you say are the main differences between Quebec City, Montreal, and Ottawa? Toronto is not on this list because we've been there heaps of times. If it helps, we are not night-life people, nor are we into shopping. We like strolling, some history, some scenery, some museums, photography, and good food. Thanks!

I loved, loved, loved Quebec City. And I know Joe is a huge fan of Montreal, where I've never been. I think Montreal is more of a lived-in city. Quebec is a bit more escapist. Ottawa is a city coming into its own as an exciting place to visit (here's our story from the other year that pretty much says as much). For natural scenery, I'd give Quebec the edge. Dramatic position on the river. It also has a winter carnival that's a pretty big deal.

Last year over new year's we went to Fort Myers Beach and stayed at the Mango Street Inn across the road from the beach (owned by two former Alexandites). Warm, beautiful, and reasonably priced.

Thanks for the suggestion.

Andrea asks whether I'll use my e-diversions during the expanded times; AND YES. Nothing spectacular mind you, but not being able to plug into my music during those first few and last few moments of the flight has been a real loss for me. True or not, I followed Lloyd Dobler's philosophy for high-level airline safety tips, "If anything happens it usually happens in the first 5 minutes of the flight, so when you hear that smoking sign go ding you know everything's going to be okay." SO, there is no smoking and no ding, but still. I remember the worst flight ever, back in the days of my old Sony Walkman, bouncing through wind shears trying to land in some dinky airport on the edge of the California desert. I'm no huge Dylan fan, but it was only by focusing on each note and phrase of "Blood on the Tracks" that kept me from wide-eyed terror and open weeping.

So true. This new rule could really help calm some jittery nerves.

Stratford-upon-Avon is close by train - maybe two hours, if I remember right. If your daughter likes artsy things, maybe a Shakespeare play there?

Or, of course, at the Globe in London!

With the FAA ruling, I'm just glad that I no longer need to feel nervous sitting next to someone who doesn't turn off their device!

Well, you never did. But I wasn't allowed to say that until now.

My husband and I actually have the possibility of 4 days off in common in mid-March 2014. To maximize vacation time, we're thinking something a direct flight away. We want domestic, not interested in beaches, but prefer warmer than DC. So far, we've come up with Charleston, Savannah or Austin, TX. Any ideas of other places or preferences among those listed?

Since you did not give any idea of your interests, I can't say which would be the best fit. But you you picked three good spots, and none gets too spring breaky in March and April.  I would also add New Orleans and Nashville to the list.

Hi there, Grumpy question here :). I don't celebrate any of the December holidays except New Year's Eve, and by December 1st, the holiday noise is driving me nuts. (Not sure about Washington, but here Christmas advertising went up on October 1st.) Could you recommend a few places, preferably warm, to spend a week in December away from the holidays (or at least the relentless consumerism)? Thanks!

Washington is no different. Every store I went into this past weekend had Christmas wares on the shelves. Maybe a place where Christianity isn't the main religion, such as Morocco,  would be a good idea. Or you could try an out-of-the-way Caribbean island, such as Dominica or Eleuthera. 

In Sunday's travel section, one traveler asked for advice on rail travel in Japan so he or she could travel to Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. The best advice to that person would be to buy a rail pass, which is good for practically any train except for a few of the ultra-fast trains. With a rail pass, they don't have to make reservations, they can just show their pass to a conductor and hop on a train. And the "big boards" in the train stations have English-language text so there's no need to guess which is the right train. The rail passes have to be purchased in the US, e.g., from one of the airlines like ANA. They're a good deal, especially if you take advantage of it and make a stop at some of the interesting cities on the way to Nagasaki like Fukuoka.

Great tip, thanks.

I'm going to be in London next month with only one day on my own. I've been there before and done all the usual stuff, so this time I want to take one of those half-day bus trips to Stonehenge. There seem to be several of them advertised on the Internet. Does anyone have any recommendations for any of them? Thanks.

Anyone have a suggestion? When I was in London, my hotel package included a tour credit with Golden Tours, and so I did a full day bus tour with the company. I don't think I'm a group tour person in general, but I was satisfied enough to say you could look into its Simply Stonehenge tour.

Hi, team! With 9 days in Prague, how would you apportion a couple of day trips? We're thinking Karlovy Vary and Cesky Krumlov. Does each merit one night? 2?

I think one night in each is plenty. Although, if you're going to Karlovy Vary, maybe do two nights and take in Marianske Lazne (Marienbad) as well, if only because of the movie! Also, it's a beautiful town.

My husband and I will be in Tokyo for a few days that include New Year's Eve and New Year's day. What should we be looking to do? Are there lots of celebrations? Where are good places to ring in 2014? Thanks!

I'd love to be in Tokyo for New Year's, but, then again, I'd love to be in Tokyo anytime.

A few thoughts: I've heard that Tokyo does a huge fireworks display for NYE, and one of the vantage points I'd be most interested in checking out would be one of the skyscrapers, such as the Skytree tower (the world's tallest!), particularly the Tembo Galleria sky walk, with panoramic views.

As crazy as you might expect Tokyo to be on NYE, though, another factor is that many Japanese go home to be with family during the holiday. But apparently the Shibuya crossing, already a sea of humanity, becomes even more so as party central. So that would be fun.

Another idea would be to visit one of the temples for the ritual first visit of the year. Throngs do this. You could go up Nakamise (the shopping street) to the Sensoji shrine in the Asakusa area; apparently jovial crowds snake up the street on the way to the incense-filled temple gates in order to pray for good luck in the coming year. At midnight on the 31st temple bells ring out all over the country, 108 times -- supposedly once for each of mankind's sins, or some such. (I'm sure I've counted more than 108 sins, though, haven't you?)

If you're there on Jan. 2, that's a special day, too, when the emperor makes a rare appearance at the Imperial Palace and the inner grounds are opened to the public.

All that's just from what I've read, though. If any chatters have actually partaken in any of the above festivities (or others), please weigh in!


Hi, My my husband, 22 y/o son and I are traveling by car from Silver Spring, Maryland to Jackson, Mississippi in Mid November. Our son recently graduated from college in Atlanta. What would be some good places to stop and see along the drive? I'm looking forward to spending time with my two best guys. Also, do you have a recommendation for a rest stop. We are meandering our way to a home (for me) town event .

There's a lot to see and do along I-81, which you'll be on for a while. There's the Civil War battlefield at New Market or lovely, historic Lexington. You could stop at Heartwood, a center focusing on the culture of Southwest Virginia, near Abingdon and explore Abingdon itself. Knoxville is pretty much right in the middle of your route between here and Jackson. That's where I would stop.

My husband and I have an opportunity to go to Tahiti in July. We will be spending a week on a catamaran (7/12-7/19) departing from Raiatea and going to Taha'a, and Bora Bora. We would like to add another week (before or after the catamaran, or perhaps a few days on each end). What other places would you recommend that we visit? What about accommodations? Is there anything that we shouldn't miss at the Heiva I Tahiti festival (July 3-19)??

Are you *trying* to make us jealous? If so, you're succeeding. Alas I know little of that part of the world, so let's throw this out to the chatters. Folks, where else should they go (as if French Polynesia isn't enough!:-) There's always New Zealand. Or Papua New Guinea.

Sometime in the next year I want to bike up L'Alpe d'Huez. Alpe d'Huez is a ski resort, but it is also the most famous of the mountains in the Tour de France, and I want to try while my 50 year old knees can still take it. ON the other hand, I don’t want to go to France just for a one day bike ride. If you were building a week-long trip around one day in the French Alps, where else would you go, what else would you do? We have recently been to Tuscany and before that Burgundy Lyon; we seem to be old churches, old towns, wine sort of people. (PS – if I were to try and see which of the bike tour companies might facilitate such an adventure, which ones should I look at first?)

I believe I answered this question for you several weeks ago. Perhaps my response wasn't sufficient to your needs. In that case, let's ask the chatters for their advice. People?

But, won't this new rule make the GEICO commercial with the pig flying and being told to turn his phone off moot? Won't someone think of the commercials?? As for me, I plan on using it to update my friend who hates flying "nope, no crash yet."

I love that pig! They only need to make a slight change; just have him on his cell phone with the insurance agent.

I agree that there's no need to take a ship's excursion on a Caribbean cruise as the OP described. But if they intend to do an activity that is some distance from the port (e.g. a day trip to Tulum or Xel-ha), it would be wise to consider the ship's excursion because the ship always waits for late returns on their own excursions. They won't wait for you to get back from a private tour or a self-guided tour you have planned yourself. So if your private guide gets stuck in traffic on the way back to the port, you may literally "miss the boat". But, having said that, most private tour providers are very aware of this policy and make every effort to get their customers back to the ship in plenty of time. (However, stuff happens). A good place to look for information of private tour groups of places to go on your own is the Ports of Call forum on Cruise Critic.

Yes, I have watched people left behind on many occasions, so one does have to be aware of the time. I tend to do solo rather than group excursions, so I can tell the driver when I want to head back. And be aware of time differences -- we nearly got caught by that in Belize.  

The OP should still be able to get credit for those miles on Lufthansa or United, though, even if they won't do as much good. You can generally get credit for miles after travel, though you might have to mail the airline your boarding passes.

Thank you. That's very helpful.

Need to be in Denver for one week. Anything nearby that I could go to solo after all day training? Will have a car and I think the hotel is near a light rail station

The Denver Art Museum is amazing and stays open late on Fridays. You could also rent a bike and hit the Greenway Trail along the South Platte River.  Or kayak in Confluence Park. The Clyfford Still Museum is also one of the most recent additions to the cultural scene.

For restaurants, bars and good people-watching, stroll along the 16th Street Mall/ Pedestrian Mall,  Larimer Square or the LoDo historic district.

I think this would be a great example of when to follow your fabulous advice on Sunday about a trying a polite phone call. I wonder if the pricey hotel at the destination would have been willing to refund some or part of that night if the traveler had called upon realizing he or she wouldn't make it. I've done that in the past, and generally had good luck (especially when I'm staying multiple days once I do finally get there). I've also had nearly an identical rental car damage experience as described in the story. I think both sides have become so hostile in the customer service wars that just being friendly gets you a long way. Of course, I also now get travel insurance JUST in case! Would probably have gotten the OP the money lost on the hotel room.

Of course our advice is fabulous! (And thanks for saying that.) The trick to using it is knowing that even though a travel company isn't required to do something, like refund a hotel room, it may still be talked into doing so because it's the right thing to do, for good customer service. Wield your politeness as a weapon when you run into problems, and things will go much smoother. And if not? Send me an email. That's why I'm here. I can be very polite -- and persuasive.

Can the OP file claim their 9000 miles online? I've done that in the past, when I didn't have my frequent flyer numbers handy, and it did post (eventually). Is it necessarily lost?

Good idea. Definitely worth a try.

My kids good-naturedly kid me about being a dinosaur regarding portable electronic devices. I do not own anything that begins with an "I" nor do I own a Kindle. While I appreciate computers and websites such as this, I like the feel of real newsprint and real books whether I am at home or on an airplane. And I don't have the need to watch TV or a movie when flying--my book is likely much more entertaining than anything on a screen. So I had to laugh when I read an article in the Post about the lifting of the ban on electronics during takeoffs and landings in which one person commented that now they could read during those times. Well, I've always been able to read then using my low-tech books and magazines!

I hear ya! I think of airplanes as libraries. I can get through stacks of newspapers and magazines and finish the book I have been falling asleep to during the work week.

Ok, firstly I'm assuming the child is a lap child. If so, she has very limited space to carry things on or off the plane and store them while onboard. I suggest that since you have a good 6+ weeks lead time, you ship gifts, baby things, etc., in advance, pay to check bags, or she buys what she needs at her destination. People travel singly with children all the time with no additional help. Add the holiday travel crowds to that mix and she's just going to irritate everyone around her if she has that much stuff.

She can only have so much stuff going through security, and if the flight is a long one, it's a good idea to have enough food, toys, diapers, etc., to keep the baby occupied and comfortable. I frequently watch single parents struggling with their babies and children while traveling, and the entire process goes smoother when other passengers offer to lend a hand.  

I'm just going to be happy to not be so ANNOYED by people who wouldn't turn off devices. I never felt nervous for my safety, but generally ticked off by people who are too clueless/full of themselves/jerky to listen to the instructions. I bet flight attendants are even more relieved than passengers!

Yep. Although I've personally seen flight attendants ignore the FAA rules before the ban was lifted. Does this mean they get to make phone calls before we land (I'm kidding)?

Kindle! I hate it when I'm at a great part in a book and then have to turn it off for 20 mins. And yes I know it's only 20 mins, but still! To the poster who was ranting about FF programs, you have to really read the fine print carefully. Most airlines disclose on their websites what fare code your ticket has to be in for mileage credit from partners. Annoying and I feel your frustration, but true.

Hope this makes it in time! I hope the Doctor Who tourists can find time to do a day or two in Cardiff to see the Doctor Who Experience, as well as a bunch of shooting locations for DW and Torchwood and the Sarah Jane Adventures. In both London and Cardiff there are companies that will take you around the locations, either in a private tour or on a larger bus


Do not go to London during the Farnborough Air Show in July.

Hi. We're looking to travel with our 8 year old child to a European island to swim, snorkel, and soak up some history and culture. We were originally thinking Sardinia but are also curious about Majorca or another Spanish island. Thoughts?

I am going to channel one of our regulars and recommend you also look into the Azores. Also, Crete and the Greek Isles.

But folks won't be able to talk on their cell phones during flight, right? Even if it's safe to do so, it's nice to not hear the buzz and ring tones, even if it's just for the lenght of a flight. I hope that rule won't ever change.

No cell phones. All chatty devices must be set on airplane mode.

I'm contemplating a short getaway in early February - is it a good time of year to go to New Orleans? I am not interested in Mardi Gras but may look for some type of food-centric tour or things to do.

If you're not interested in Mardi Gras, then I'd go earlier in February. Mardi Gras 2014 is March 4, with most of the partying starting the weekend before, so you should be MG-free most of February, but various parades do start in mid-February. Weatherwise, it's a great time to be there; this past February, the weekend of Feb. 8-10, for example, had highs of 67-80 and lows of 56-67. (Historically the averages are a little colder, of course -- mostly 50s-60s.)

As for what to do? Eat, yes. I'm not sure you need to take an actual tour; you could read up on what we have written here, here and here and have a pretty good head start.

I planned our 25th anniversary trip to Europe myself, in 2008. Internet resources are wonderful!! Once we determined the cities that we wanted to visit, I used TripAdvisor to research hotels, and was easily able to book tours from our hotel by using Viator ( Because of the logistics (number of flights, hotels, etc.) I also purchased trip insurance, which I hardly ever buy.

Thanks for the advice!

Hi, this is in response to a poster's question about experiences with Priceline. Have to say I have not tried it. But just had excellent experience with Hotwire. We wanted a night near Philadelphia, but our go-to BandB was requiring a 2 night stay. We tried Hotwire (for first time) and it was so cheap, we decided to go for two nights. Great hotel with free parking. The bonus is we got a free upgrade to a king suite and lots of perks, all because the original room we were placed in had a plumbing issue (which had caused us no problems--we noticed immediately and mentioned it at the desk right away). I would definitely try Hotwire again. I would have been happy with the original room, if not for the plumbing problem, the rest was a bonus.

Thanks for sharing.

My advise is to read the fine print. I belong to several programs, and before I book with any of airline partner or an "operated by" flight I always check the "earning miles" part of the web site. This is where you find what each booking class will earn - for example in one search I found economy Y, B or H got 100% of miles flown, but K, M, L, V, Q, S, G, N earned none. Sometimes it is 50% or 25% - you have to check to know what to expect and weigh this into your fare choice. This is especially useful if you find two different fares on the same plane through different web sites - you can sometimes account for the difference by how many mile you may earn.

Great advice. Thanks!

Zofia - I don't recall your answer (I've asked more than once). If I asked and then went to a meeting, never coming back to check, then shame on me. I shall hit the archives immediately

I've been trying to find it for you, but haven't come up with it yet. I know I answered you. Unfortunately we have no good search function for our chat archives, sigh. I'll keep looking.

Don't miss a going to Terezin as a side trip in the Czech Republic. Thousands of Jews were detained there during WWII and the museum and reconstructed barracks are very moving. Also, before going to Vienna, watch the famous movie starring Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton, The Third Man. Then go ride the Wiener Riesenrad (German for "Viennese giant wheel"), which is featured in the film.

Great tips. Thanks.

Maybe the OP flew on a flight code that wasn't eligible for miles at all. I recall going on a package trip to Ireland and not being able to get miles because of the fare code - which was a reduced package rate that was lower than the cheapest price if bought separately.

Did this a few years ago... Traditional Japanese like to go some place scenic to see the sunrise on New Year's Day, and my BIL's gf is Japanese, so we wound up taking a ferry from Tokyo to Oshima Island to watch the sun rise over the Pacific. (Since I live it LA, it was a novelty to watch the sun rise rather than set!). When the ferry set out, we circled near Tokyo Disney to see their fireworks at midnight (spectacular, of course). Japan celebrates the lunar new year on Jan 1 (as opposed the Chinese/Vietnamese, etc. who do it later in the month) so there are all kinds of preparations/festivities before the actual day. Shrines put out new tatami, just about everyplace has adorable little tchockes for the animal of the new year, and there's just this really cool air of expectation. And lots of people visit temples and shrines on New Year's Day. It's all very very cool, and I would love to do it again.

Sign me up, too!

ZOFIA SMARDZ : Oh, you're in beautiful country there. I'd be sure to see Annecy and Chamonix (have a look at spectacular Mont Blanc), two beautiful Alpine towns maybe about two hours' drive each north of L'Alpe d'Huez. Grenoble, a lovely old city, is even closer, less than an hour away. Geneva is about 2 1/2 hours away (north of Annecy) and of course fantastic (it's Switzerland, what can I say). If you want to head into Italy, Turin, also fabulous, is about three hours away. Of course, you could spend all your time just in L'Alpe d'Huez and its immediate environs, basking in the gorgeous Alpine scenery. Chatters, what do you think

My mother had a similar situation with United. We went to the airport, checked in and went through security. Few hours before the flight she learned that the first leg of her flight was canceled therefore she would miss the connecting flight to Europe. We had to go back to the airport to pick her up. She ended up flying the next day. We contacted United customer service and complained about the situation. They apologized and issued her e 500 USD voucher to use with United.

And 60 minutes are gone!

What a great ride. Thanks for joining us.

Today's winner is the chatter who brought back good memories with their Sony Walkman and Dylan. The music never dies, but the thankfully the ban has. Email me your contact info at

See you next Monday!

Hi, all, a scheduling update: We actually won't be chatting Nov. 11 for Veterans' Day. Come back and see us Nov. 18!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Travel editor.
Zofia Smardz
Zofia Smardz is the deputy editor of Travel.
Andrea Sachs
Andrea Sachs is a staff writer for Travel.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is Travel's editorial aide.
Christopher Elliott
Christopher Elliott writes The Navigator column, clearing the way through the fog of consumer travel issues. He is also National Geographic Traveler magazine's reader advocate.
Carol Sottili
Carol Sottili is a former Washington Post travel writer, specializing in travel deals.
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